AU ABROAD

Here is the story of the first night of Ka’anapali Fresh: A Culinary Experience

Having visited Hawai’i over 50 times in the past four decades, I tend to go to the outer islands rather than lay on crowded Waikiki or get stuck in traffic in Honolulu. Just like I wouldn’t recommend Yanks discovering the true Australia via The Gold Coast, so I wouldn’t advise Aussies to get their first taste of this magical place in Honolulu.

While the island of Oahu does have its charms and shopping is great there, each of the other five islands has its own allure and now, the state is getting a rep for its food and wine festivals which kick off as the summer tourists leave a hole in the economy.

It's the third year of the three-day Ka'anapali Fresh Culinary Experience on Maui that I have thrice had the good fortune to attend at one of the best beaches in the world. Ka'anapali Beach--Where The World Comes to Play--is also where it comes to eat along three miles of golden sand with a master planned resort of several top brand hotels. Hosted by the Ka'anapali Beach Resort Association, it is staged with a few dozen local and international chefs paired with local farmers and produce at Hyatt Regency, Westin, Sheraton Maui and Royal Lahaina resorts.

A dozen winemakers, craft beer artisans and spirits producers are also featured with an afternoon class on mixology a highlight of the many seminars and special events run during the days.

Tours are available for local farms and providers--my favourite being the hang I had with Shay Smith of the divine organic sugar Ocean Vodka distillery and Kimo Falconer who runs Ka'anapali Coffee. And in the middle is a Farmers Market early Saturday morning where you get to sample the best produce Maui has to offer.

Each year its musical offerings feature the best Hawai’i has to offer like ukulele master Jake Shimabukoro last year and guitar wunderkind Barry Flanagan of HAPA this year.

But the real rockstars are the chefs. Kicking off with a Friday night feast of Old Hawai'i dishes, foods from the Golden Era, Modern Hawai'i concoctions and Ka'anapali Style Desserts, we have a dozen great local chefs all shining in the sun as the arrival of a flotilla of outrigger canoes leads the double hulled sailing canoes onto the beach in front of the Westin.

It's the start of a culinary journey that follows the evolutions of dining in Hawai'i where the spiritual meets the physical plane in the exchange of gifts from the waters to the fields--from Mauka to Makai--ocean to mountains.

Aha'aina O Ka'anapali is the Hawaiian event name, a voyage of taste explorations as you discover the clean natural flavours of fish, limu and sweet potatoes from old Hawaii; the savoury farm-raised beef, pork and sweet golden pineapple while sipping a designer cocktail honouring the Golden Age.

Then to the modern era where Hawaii'i Regional Cuisine indulges the senses with an innovative combination of cultures and exotic seasonings in the new wave of culinary tourism. All this being fed with servings of Hawaiian music from the traditional with hula to more modern stylings with a rhythmic beat to falsetto and hapa-haole tunes as well as current hits.

So here are some of the highlights of this year's Feast for The Senses, its first night which features local restaurateur chefs and those from the resorts. It begins with a boatload of poi, sweet potatoes, Pohole Fern Salad, raw crab and fish poke.

The local Hula Grill features Breadfruit Gnocchi with Pastrami Cured Short Ribs and a Grilled Pineapple Gremolata. The perfect way to start The Golden Era, the dish practically glows as a tussle of sweet and savoury evolves.

A Kona Kampachi Poisson Cru fish dish is served over Coconut Fried Rice in a Won Ton Shell over Sweet Poi. It’s another clash of flavours but one that is resolved in a melding of oral joys. This one’s a hit from Tom Muromoto of Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.

Local restaurant Leilani on the Beach features Malama Farms Pork Lau Lau (wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with spice) accompanied by a Poha Berry Mustard with a bit of zing.

Banana Coconut Curried Mahi Mahi fish on Mint Parsley Cous Cous with Banana Mango Chutney is the complex contribution from Maui Fish and Pasta and it’s a hit with the crowds as they queue for seconds.

My favourite though from the Golden Era is the Ginger Cured Hamachi fish with Sweet Potato Chili Pepper Brioche, Pickled Plum, Mustard Cabbage and a Lemoncello Crème created by Ikaika Manaku of the hosting Westin Maui Resort and Spa. It was loaded with flavours each cascading over the mellow fish yet not taking anything away from it.

Modern Hawaii started with a Green Banana and Pork Pasteles which is a Puerto Rican dish by way of the Philippines. Simple, yet the synergy of pork and green banana made an intriguing flavor profile.

In this era, my favourite was the Coco Crusted Lobster Sushi that sounds basic, but it’s quite hard to make. Sushi rolled with Mango, Lobster and Avocado, crusted with Toasted Coconut Flakes and laced with Dragon Tare, it’s flash fried for an amazing dish by Bernardo Salazar of Royal Lahaina Resort.

Coming close second was the Sheraton’s Black Rock Braised Beef Short Rib Poutine with Sweet Potato Frites, Smoked Gouda and Short Rib Ragout. Meat, cheese and sweet frites from chef Nicasia.

Then came dessert. The opener was a Banana Lumpia, Kula Strawberries, Caramel Whipped Crème with Big Island Chocolate Sauce. A sugar fruit hit with a choc finish designed by Hyatt Regency’s Gregory Grahowski.

The cones are Maui Gold Pineapple Mousse with Passion Fruit caviar wrapped in dark chocolate by Ikaika Manuku of The Westin.

The finale was the Sheraton’s Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Orange-Ginger Caramel Sauce. Alongside that are shooters of pineapple juice with lemongrass and vanilla bean splits.

There were other dishes but it would be tastebud overkill to describe them all. Best to go out swaying with the local hula talent that starts at the youngest age.

All through this feast were hula halaus from little girls to young women to an older kumu hula teacher dancing solo. The band was a crew of local heroes who come together at various venues to back the hula troupes as they sway into the sunset.

While this was at the shoreline, tomorrow’s night’s feasting is on the third hole of the award winning golf course with another array of local chefs and producers, vintners, cocktail supremos and wild desserts.